Lead pollution concerns for Port Pirie Housing Trust children

Over 40 Housing Trust properties in Port Pirie, all of which are currently occupied by families with children aged under five, will be upgraded due to concerns about potential lead pollution.

May 31, 2022, updated May 31, 2022
Photo: AAP/David Mariuz

Photo: AAP/David Mariuz

The SA Housing Authority states the 42 public houses are located “in areas of risk to children under the age of five” because they are prone to lead dust.

In response to questions from InDaily following the release of tender documents yesterday, the authority confirmed all 42 houses are currently occupied by families with at least one child aged under five.

A spokesperson said six of the properties house two children aged under five and three properties house three children aged under five.

The state government has recognised lead pollution as a serious health issue in Port Pirie since the 1980s, with the Spencer Gulf city housing one of the world’s largest primary lead smelters, owned by global metals group Nyrstar.

Airborne lead-contaminated dust produced during the smeltering process is deposited throughout the city and in houses, resulting in what SA Health describes as “unacceptable” blood lead levels in children.

Lead exposure in children is linked to slower intellectual development and behavioural disorders. In February last year, SA Health said lead levels in the blood of Port Pirie two-year-olds had reached a 10-year high of 7.3 micrograms per decilitre of blood.

National health guidelines say levels above five micrograms per decilitre should be investigated, while others say there is no safe level.

The 42 Housing Trust properties in Port Pirie have never before received upgrades to reduce the spread of lead contaminated dust since they were progressively built between the early 1950s and early 2000s.

“The age and design of many of (the) properties makes them susceptible to airborne dust from surrounding areas,” SA Housing Authority tender documents state.

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“The properties are in low and medium lead risk areas with children under the age of five.”

The authority told InDaily that it received funding to carry out lead abatement work midway through last year and it expected the upgrades to be complete by the end of June next year.

The work is expected to cost $2.5 million.

“It is the first time this type of lead abatement work has been carried out on these properties,” a spokesperson said.

“All the properties are occupied and will remain occupied during the abatement works.”

The proposed upgrades include removing and disposing up to 10-centimetres of contaminated soil from the surface of the properties’ front and backyards, covering exposed soil with “crusher dust”, sealing cracks and gaps, and ensuring all windows have screens.

The tender documents also state a new children’s play area would be built with artificial turf.

“It is anticipated the appointment of a single suitably qualified supplier will enable the public authority (SA Housing Authority) to provide a safe environment for children under five by minimising the dust ingress into the houses and the possibility of elevated dust from the remainder of the property,” the documents state.

In November last year, the state government announced it would give $7 million towards a $23 million facility at Nyrstar’s Port Pirie smelter aimed at cutting lead pollution by up to 25 per cent.

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